Jazz Setlist, Sept. 8-14: An Embarrassment of Riches
Remember how I said that September was when the magic would happen? Behold, this week, where I severely cherry-picked the week's offerings and am still having to do an extra-long column.
Friday, September 9
There are so many things about The Cookers that scream "All-Star Band." The truth, though, is that they are an All-Should-Have-Been-Stars Band. Organizers David Weiss (trumpet) and Craig Handy (sax) gather together a group of the finest, most underrated jazz musicians to develop in America during the past half-century. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper and trumpeter Eddie Henderson both came of age, creatively speaking, in the treacherous 1970s, playing fusion, free, and spiritual jazz after the Coltrane model; they worked together through the '80s and '90s (mostly under Harper's name), blending the spiritualism into more traditional hard-bop stylings. Along with Weiss and Handy, they're supported by the impossibly brilliant rhythm section of pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer and D.C. native Billy Hart—all of them, like Harper and Henderson, known and endlessly revered by jazz insiders, but never receiving the recognition from the larger fandom that they've deserved for so long. There are few gigs, however, that are more exciting this fall. The Cookers perform at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th Street NW. $35.
Saturday, September 10
The Petworth Jazz Project, a monthly neighborhood outdoor concert series that began in May, wraps for the summer this week. Each month on the second Saturday, jazz has come to the lawn of Petworth Playground, four blocks from the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station, beginning 90 minutes before sunset so that concert and daylight ended at the same time. There's a dicey proposition to this final week, it must be said. It's a doubleheader: The regularly scheduled performer is the much discussed Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, the scene's most reliable (and reliably good) ensemble performer. Every Monday you can see them at Bohemian Caverns, but their "road gigs"—relatively speaking—are few and far between. Here's a good shot. Also on the bill is the great local singer Akua Allrich, a rich alto voice with hornlike cadences who's jazz at the core, but with a generous helping of neo-soul. Here's the caveat: Allrich is on the bill as a reschedule of her original set, August 27, that was canceled due to inclement weather. There is a good-to-excellent chance of inclement weather this weekend as well. Nonetheless, this is a great way to spend your Saturday evening if it's a clear one. They perform at 5 p.m. at Petworth Playground, 8th and Taylor streets NW. Free.
Sunday, September 11
Yes—it's THAT day. THAT anniversary. There is little more to add to what's already being said and thought about it all over the country and the world, and no shortage of ways it will be marked. This writer chooses to mark it in a way that returns some joy and pleasant surprise to the day: With another in CapitalBop's ongoing winning streak, also known as its DC Jazz Loft series. Mindful of the forthcoming demise of the Lofts' heretofore favorite venue, the Red Door, the CapitalBop gang is in a sense pulling out all the stops with this edition. The lineup features the mighty bass clarinet sound of Baltimore's Todd Marcus; the post-bop/hip-hop/free-improvisation combo, Cricket Fusion, featuring special guest Tedd Baker along with its usual ensemble of heady experimentalists; steaming alto saxophonist Brent Birckhead, in a rare appearance at the head of his own quartet; and, of course, the Lofts' trademark evening-ending jam session, in this case led by DC powerhouse saxophonist Brian Settles. (CapitalBop suggests the tone will be both free and meditative.) For God's sake, 9/11 needs a little bit of artistic triumph to its name. The DC Jazz Loft begins at 7 p.m. at the Red Door, 443 I St. NW. $10 (suggested donation).
Monday, September 12
Now let's talk about an important date this week that's nothing but artistic triumph. Yes, it's once again time for one of the most important jazz events of the year: the annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. It's the world's most prestigious jazz musicians' competition, and one of its best talent factories; this year it spotlights the instrument of choice for its namesake, the piano. Last time the keys were on display, in 2006, all of its top three finishers—Tigran Hamasyan (first), Gerald Clayton (second), and Aaron Parks (third)—were able to parlay that success into the start of a major career of their own. Before that came such pianists as Orrin Evans, Eric "ELEW" Lewis, Jacky Terrasson, Bill Cunliffe, Harry Appelman, Marcus Roberts, and Joey DeFrancesco. The next great name on that long list will be decided on Monday night at the Kennedy Center. Oh, and that night will also comprise a gala concert that includes most of the past winners mentioned above, as well as an astonishing lineup of greats too numerous to list here. The Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW. $50-75.
Wednesday, September 14
Ever seen those gigantic precision air chisels? We're talking those big power tools with the strength to punch through rock, but the fragile attention to detail that allows it to sculpt the stone into fine shapes. That's as good an analogy as any for Will Vinson's alto saxophone sound. It can sometimes venture into the higher tones of the soprano sax, but without its more feathery edges; Vinson is all muscle, and with one of the most penetrating tones ever sounded on the alto. He's also got an insurmountable swing to his playing, and an extraordinary willingness to experiment with sonics. He's an ideal choice, therefore, to inaugurate the new jazz series at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, where he'll lead his quartet in what is also his own debut performance in our fair city. He plays at 8 p.m. at the Atlas, 1333 H St. NE. $25.